Not with writing. But with two different projects. I’m done messing with them, which is a process any creative can identify with, the movement from creation to shaping to honing to sheer screwing-about-with. When I was editing film projects, we’d laugh over filenames like “Final Edit V2 Revised Final Final V3.ppj”
We tweak. We tinker. As the oft-misattributed quote goes, art is never finished, merely abandoned. And that’s true, but one of the things I’ve learned over time is how to recognize when that stage comes, when it’s time to say farewell and move on. I’ve written a fair amount; over twenty feature films scripts, uncountable short films, commercial scripts, articles, stories, and other shorter forms, and three novel-length manuscripts with a fourth underway. I’ve learned some good solid stuff, also some tricks, learned that there are so many things I don’t know, but one of the big things I’ve learned is when to stop.
I recently revisited all of my novel manuscripts, and a few of my shorter fiction pieces too. My current novel has taken an enormous amount of thought and planning and energy, so I haven’t been looking back at all, only forward. But I took the time recently to re-read all three manuscripts: Worldbreaker, The Nightmare of Desolation Sound, and The Gate of Azathoth. Now, The Gate of Azathoth is a first draft, and whooeee, does it need some rewriting. I still love it, but “breakneck pace” doesn’t even begin to describe it; the Tesla vs Cthulhu novels are deliberately written with an element of pulp adventure but this one doesn’t give anyone room to breathe. It’s the Michael Bay movie of 1920s paranormal adventure, and those two don’t really go together. So it needs some work.
The other two, though, they’re ready; I’m handing them their suitcases and waving them goodbye as they go off to college (translation: get sent to agents), and I do it confident in the knowledge that I’ve done everything I can to make them the best books they can be. How do I know they’re done? I could always do some changes, couldn’t I? Sure. And maybe down the road, an editor or an agent will have some fundamental note that will make me realize I can strengthen them by going in a new direction. But as I read them, and take in the notes others have given, I realize they are themselves, finished versions. And the reason is they do what I want them to do. The emotional scenes deliver. The adventure scenes give thrills. The scary scenes are scary, and most of all, the people feel real, and readers care about what happens to them. Even me, who knows where all the strings and pulleys are. Having taken a break and come back to them, the reader Jeff takes over from the writer Jeff, and I enjoy the ride. That tells me they’re ready; when I’m teary and cheery and laughing and clenching the clenchables, rather than kicking the supports and checking the bolts and wondering if the paint has got enough coats. I’m having fun.
Are they great? I’ll never know; odds are usually against greatness but it’s never really up to us as creators how things are received. Opinions on quality will no doubt vary. My goal is to make sure you had a good time reading, and I gave these my best. Better books likely await; every artist wants to improve and develop. But I do know that these books are as ready as they will ever be, and it’s time to wish them well and send them out into the world.